November 29, 2011 Leave a comment
Heat has only been going for a short period of time; there are currently only 19 chapters, but I felt it was time for a preview/review of this series. The story is written by Buronson, author of Fist of the North Star; and the artwork is by Ikegami Ryoichi, artist from Strain and Sanctuary among others.
I am fond of gangster manga, as long as they are well drawn and have a good story. Crime and Yakuza manga very often involve a lot of sex, drugs, killing etc and Heat is no exception. It is set in some unknown time, although I am willing to bet that it is probably mid-late 1990s (partly because it was initially released in 1999) in the centre of Tokyo, to be more precise the red-light district around Shinjuku.
The story centers Tatsumi Karasawa, a mysterious character who suddenly appears in the city and becomes the owner of host club “Shinijuku Sokai” in only two days. He then gathers a group of amateurs who aren’t afraid of gangsters, police, or so-called “professional” organizations. His self-proclaimed goal is to get to the top; he is the essence of Yakuza and gangsters basically.
We then get a series of chapters within the manga charting his various dealings and the goings on within Shinjuku and the underworld of Tokyo. Karasawa moves through it fearlessly, even when he is confronted with local gangs who have the backing of large Taiwanese or Cantonese Syndicates and of course the big established Yakuza families.
What we get is usually a series of short fights, some blackmailing, and of course sex. This story is quirt graphic, but here is also a significant amount of censorship in place; so, while it does have a Mature tag, the violence is not on the same level as some other manga I have read, it is definitely isn’t a Hentai manga in any way.
The story is fascinating, especially with the character of Karasawa, he is a total mystery, no one knows where he came from, what he did before, why he has started up the gang and why he keeps butting heads with the big organizations. What we do know is that he is immensely charismatic, has more ambition than your average mad despot and is probably far cleverer than half the people he interacts with. He is the central enigma that drives along the story of Heat, everything revolves around him, and it is a fascinating story to read.
Something else that really struck me about this manga is the artwork. Ikegami Ryoichi produces some amazing pieces. I would call his art style quite realistic, there are times when backgrounds almost look he has taken a picture and traced over it to create the panel, it is so realistic. He has a real flair for the Japanese underground and is also very good at drawing the fight scenes. But at the same time his artwork is often quite subdued, and while there is a lot of detail it is blurred, as if he is deliberately trying to show us the blurred boundaries between the Yakuza and the police through his artwork.
For what is an essentially simple piece of work about one Yakuza and his rise to the top I find this story oddly compelling. Not only is the artwork itself beautiful and a pleasure to look at, but also the story has a little something to keep it going. The characters are fascinating, especially Karasawa, and some of the other main characters that he interacts with.
The story will not surprise anyone who has read other Yakuza stories before, and certainly not surprise anyone who is familiar with Buronson or Ikegami Ryoichis works. However I would certainly recommend this manga as a nice break from the moe/ecchi stories that we often see. It’s brutal realism is a fresh change and a welcome one at that. It wont be for everyone of course, but I would certainly suggest giving it a look, perhaps reading the first 5 chapters or so.